Fat (Lip) Tuesday: A Multicultural Feminist Critique of Seattle's Mardi Gras Violence

By Woodard, S. Purcell | Multicultural Education, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Fat (Lip) Tuesday: A Multicultural Feminist Critique of Seattle's Mardi Gras Violence


Woodard, S. Purcell, Multicultural Education


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In the early morning hours of Wednesday, February 28th, 2001, violence erupted in Seattle's Pioneer Square District as Mardi Gras (also called Fat Tuesday) festivities ended. Estimated crowd size was 4,000 people on the streets, plus an additional 5,000 people in adjacent bars and restaurants. The Seattle Police Department reports that 350 riot-ready officers were deployed to the scene ("Violence mars," 2001). Crowd control measures included pepper spray, sting balls, tear gas, and plastic batons. By dawn's light, 21 people had been arrested for infractions ranging from assault to obstructing police to rioting. In all, 72 injuries were reported, with one injury proving fatal.

The main goal of this inquiry is to critically re-position media, newspapers in particular, as a useful (i.e., affordable, tangible) pedagogical resource for teachers to begin and sustain discussions of diversity, especially as it relates to race, gender or sex, and culture in their classrooms and broader school communities. Specifically, this critique does so by delving into the following claim reported in The Seattle Medium, a low-budget, alternative newspaper whose (discursive) motto is to be "a message from the people...to the people":

The images portrayed across television screens and in mainstream newspapers, according to local African American and religious leaders, clearly misled the public into believing that young African Americans [male and female alike] were the root cause of the problem. They say the situation has helped to perpetuate racial tensions in Seattle. (Bennett, 2001)

Practical insights about the relationship between discourse, power, and the construction of knowledge are embedded within this allegation.

Scott (1994) describes discourse as a historically, socially, and institutionally specific framework of statements, terms, categories, and beliefs. One explicit way discourse works is surfaced by identifying the discursive function of the newspapers slogan. Specifically, by describing themselves as the people's voice, other newspapers are positioned as counter examples without having to overtly make this claim.

This critique uses multicultural education theory, feminist theory, and personal poetry to explore how discourse informs and shapes our understandings and perceptions by examining the discourse, particularly around race, generated from Seattle's recent Mardi Gras violence. A textual analysis of the Mardi Gras violence as it was covered over a five-week time period in The Seattle Times and Seattle PostIntelligencer, two local morning newspapers, is conducted.

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A major premise of this critique is if certain stories and interpretations were given precedence or higher attention in the local coverage, what is to be said of and learned from the silences and gaps in the (re)presentations? In particular, alleged racially motivated crimes have been well documented (Jamieson, 2001). However, only two sexual crimes thus far have been filed (Ith, 2001c; Kamb, 2001c). Does this disparity carry transferable lessons for understanding how sensitive issues are identified and discussed within school settings-from elementary to higher education? In raising such questions, the potential curricular qualities of media surface.

Gay (2000) argues that to practice effective culturally responsive teaching, which is to say instruction that incorporates "prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them" (p. 29), media must be addressed. She reasons that media stories are accessible at least on some level to almost everyone due to the photographs, illustrations or conversational writing style. This accessibility is therefore too powerful for teachers to ignore since students bring this information and its effects on them to the classroom.

Banks (1995b) argues that schools must prepare students to become an ef fective citizenry.

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